- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Solar-powered and earth-bermed homes had all the trappings of the future when I was a child. Forty-plus years ago, there was talk, there were studies and there were journals extolling the 21st century as a time of alternative energy sources that were plentiful, clean and cheap.

Funny how we were supposed to have lots of cool stuff happen in the 21st century. So far, the coolest things that really affected my life have been the personal computer and the microwave, both of which were in wide use inter-20th century.

I still drive in a gas-guzzling car no electric car on my horizon yet. I turn on the lights using electricity and incandescent bulbs the same type and from the same company my parents used.

This Thanksgiving, I cooked the bird in a convection oven, overnight at about 250-degrees Fahrenheit. Notice I didn't even use the Celsius reading that we were supposed to be using across the land by now.

We can only hope that the latest venue of alternative energy homes being touted by the National Association of Home Builders (www.nahb.org) will actually take root in the North American culture.

The Zero Energy Home (ZEH) opened this month in Tucson, Ariz., in the John Wesley Miller Cos. Armory Park del Sol community (www.armoryparkdelsol.com). This is a community of alternative energy homes that use an average of less than a dollar a day for heating and cooling. The project involves a partnership with Tucson Electric Power and Global Solar Energy. The community makes extensive use of active and passive solar systems.

At NAHB's Research Center Web site (www.nahbrc.org), acting President Terre Belt says, "The Energy Information Administration is forecasting higher residential heating bills this winter, and consumers are looking to build more energy-efficient homes. As energy prices rise and consumers become more aware of the need to reduce energy use, it seems prudent to build homes that conserve and produce energy and to make existing homes conserve more energy. The Zero Energy Home is designed to demonstrate how to build an affordable and aesthetically pleasing home that is also energy efficient."

Builder John Wesley Miller adds: "What we're literally doing here is building a small power plant one house at a time. Once we monitor the success of this home, it's likely that we will build more in this community."

The site says the primary goal of the initiative is to introduce the ZEH concept into the mainstream home-building industry. Will it take root? We can only hope.

Owners of zero-energy homes could actually receive a credit from the power company if their state-of-the-art, energy-efficient dwellings return energy to the utility grid. The unique construction, along with appliances with commercially available renewable energy systems, uses little energy, and when possible, returns energy to the grid.

The Energy Department administers the ZEH national initiative through its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (www.nrel.gov). The Armory Park del Sol subdivision is one of four zero energy home projects, which are part of the Energy Department's initiative. Researchers at NREL are working with four home-building teams to introduce the ZEH concept into the single-family, new-home construction industry.

My vote is for alternative fuels, especially as I see winter approaching in the unpredictable mid-Atlantic region where energy costs of $250-plus per month are not unusual. I just hope the mainstream buys into it before the 22nd century.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 13 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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